How augmented and virtual reality are enhancing customer service and satisfaction for many top brands

How augmented and virtual reality is transforming today’s customer experiences

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Adam Jeffs
01/14/2021

The application of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for customer experience (CX) is on the rise in many industries, research suggests that the AR and VR market is expected to grow by $125bn over the next four years.

Over recent years, brands have begun to creatively apply AR and VR to enhance customer experiences, providing an added level of immersion while operating at a distance. This dynamic has been especially needed in the context of social distancing mandates issued for the Covid-19 pandemic.

VR represents the total immersion of a customer into a new, digital world whereas AR is the overlaying of digital features onto reality to create and augmented perception of the world. Here we explore how AR and VR are being applied across several industries, including retail and food and beverage industries, to enhance experiences with added depth.

Augmented reality in customer experiences

1. Contactless shopping: Some fashion retailers, such as Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger, are using AR to provide an added layer of interaction for customers to experiment with products. Augmented reality features are embedded into retail apps, which allow customers to digitally superimpose garments and accessories onto themselves using the camera on their smartphone device.

Image source: Gucci

These features deliver more clarity to customers on whether products suit their needs, in terms of fit or style. A project such as this allows customers to make more informed decisions, while ensuring their safety from risks such as the pandemic, and is the kind of CX initiative which could set brands apart in a crowded retail marketplace.

2. Immersive experiences that enhance product utility: AR offers brands the opportunity to create immersive experiences that engage customers on a deeper level than many other digital channels. Coca-Cola has recently embraced this technology to develop an engaging customer experience initiative that overlays interactive features onto the user’s surroundings through a smartphone app.

The initiative, dubbed ‘Hydr8’ is an omnichannel, personalized experience that utilizes AR to encourage healthy hydration habits through Coca-Cola product consumption by using fun challenges and incentives to donate to humanitarian causes. This application of AR represents a new era of technological possibilities for customer journeys. Dobrian Dobrev, UX architect for Coca-Cola’s IT marketing team, notes: “This technology is here to stay and we need to adapt accordingly in order to remain relevant and be efficient, creative problem solvers.”

3. Unprecedented personalization: AR offers an opportunity for customers to engage with a brand in a unique way by encouraging them to participate in the creation of their experience.

McDonald’s has started to capitalize on this benefit by including instructions with its ‘Happy Meals’ that invite children to build their own set of AR glasses using the meal box and their smartphone as a screen. Once constructed children can use these DIY AR glasses to watch interactive digital stories on the Happy Meal app. Successfully engaging children can be challenging, so this creative application of augmented reality could be just the differentiator that brands need in order to keep their attention.

4. Empowering staff productivity: International courier, DHL, has encountered an AR application that has enhanced operational efficiencies in tested warehouses. AR technology has been used to implement ‘vision picking’ technology through ‘smart glasses’. This vision picking technology uses graphics and directions to guide DHL’s pickers toward the desired packages for the task at hand.

When testing this application of AR, DHL found that vision picking increased efficiency for fulfilling orders by 25 per cent. A significant time and cost saving for warehouse operatives, which could lead to the faster fulfilment of customer orders, reduce necessary headcount and minimize customer complaints regarding late orders.

Virtual reality in customer experiences

1. Virtual high-street shopping: As stores across the globe closed their doors in response to Covid-19, brands were forced to explore new ways to replicate the ‘in-store’ experience to retain as much revenue as possible.

Dior has created a VR experience that allowed customers to navigate around a virtual store and browse the retailer’s products. This creative application of VR enables customers to engage in ‘high-street shopping’ from the safety of their own home and encouraged a feeling of normality despite the highly restrictive circumstances 2020 has imposed on many.

2. Remote employee training: The Covid-19 lockdown orders have denied managers the opportunity to host the usual in-person training sessions. For organizations such as global oil and gas company, BP, undertaking critical operations, cancelling training sessions until social distancing mandates are lifted was not an option.



Image source: Immerse


BP deployed VR to create remote-training programs that give employees the opportunity to learn from visual representations of oil and gas operations. This assisted BP in preserving the quality of employee productivity and output by developing their skillsets with immersive training despite the enforced remote-working mandates.

3. Virtual tours: Another application of VR is the deployment of virtual tours for services such as hotel rooms or home lettings. These tours provide peace of mind for customers and sets their expectations for the service they have paid to receive.

NH Hotel Group has begun offering innovative 360-degree virtual tours of its hotel rooms online, allowing customers to see their room in its entirety rather than just selected angles provided in edited photographs. This lets customers ‘walk around’ the room and inspect it in a way that traditionally has not been possible, ensuring they have accurate expectations about their  room.

4. Enhanced marketing: VR empowers brands to offer simulations that let customers experiment with a product or service at an unprecedented level.


Image source: Volvo Cars 

One marketing initiative saw Volvo offer customers the opportunity to virtually test drive cars. This application of VR enables Volvo to reach out to customers with a fresh engagement touch point and market new products without having to wait for the customer to step into a dealership. Aside from the enhanced convenience this offers customers and the positive engagement from such a unique experience, this is extremely beneficial during the Covid-19 pandemic’s lockdown periods and social distancing recommendations.

Conclusion

As brands become more aware of the unique applications and benefits hidden within AR and VR, we will likely see more innovative applications that will unlock moments of delight for customers. Brands that shy away from AR and VR’s possibilities are set to lose a competitive edge as customer expectations progress with the technologies’ adoption and standards are pushed a little higher on what truly excellent customer experience looks like.

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